It is becoming more difficult for Putin to make excuses about the poisoning of Alexey Navalny in August 2020.
Russian opposition leader Navalny, who was targeted with the nerve agent Novichok, changed his phone number and called his attacker, pretending to be an assistant to Nikolai Patrushev, a former head of the Russian security service (FSB). The FSB operative gave all the details of the operation (which he considered successful) and admitted that he had cleaned the traces of poison from the politician’s underpants, to which it had been applied. This is the most shameful failure of the Russian special services in recent years after the Salisbury poisonings.
Navalny called almost all the alleged poisoners, who quickly slammed the phone down. Except for one: Konstantin Borisovich Kudryavtsev, a military chemist from the FSB’s Institute of Forensic Science, who had previously worked at the biological security research centre of the Ministry of Defence and the Military Academy of Radiation, Chemical and Biological Protection.
Navalny’s team obtained confirmation that a group from the FSB’s Institute of Forensic Science went to Omsk to destroy traces of poisoning on his clothes.
The investigation proved that the entire Russian law-enforcement system has been compromised and can no longer be trusted. Many people were involved in the Navalny poisoning—from doctors and police officers to the local FSB. Kudryavtsev noted in the phone conversation that the clothes were given to him for cleaning by “Mikhail”, the head of the local FSB counterterrorism department. “Mikhail” refused to speak “via an unencrypted channel” but confirmed that he had handed over the clothes to Kudryavtsev and had worked with officers of the local transport police. He was identified as Mikhail Valerievich Evdokimov.
One of the Soviet developers of Novichok, Vladimir Uglev, suggested in September that Navalny was poisoned through his underwear. He said, “In terms of time and dynamics, Navalny got up at about six in the morning, took a shower, steamed his body, put on infected underpants, and on the plane began to exhibit serious signs of poisoning” (Разбор маршрута Навального в утро отравления в Томске • Проект. (proekt.media)). The poisonous substance had been applied to the underpants precisely because this is an intimate item that no one except the owner touches. Plus, there is no risk of injury to strangers—that is, no collateral damage as in Salisbury. Socks can be considered another good option, but they do not come into contact with such soft and sensitive skin as in the most intimate part of the body.
Investigative journalists (Bellingcat, Insider and others) succeeded in exposing the use of the Novichok chemical weapon against Alexey Navalny thanks to the repressive laws of Putin’s regime and the corruption of officials.
The market for stolen personal data is flourishing in Russia, with an annual turnover of some 50.7 million US dollars. This information is almost always sold by police officers, who can access it at any time. For instance, you can buy an individual’s travel history for 230–380 dollars.
Data from phones is also not expensive. Vendors usually offer for sale information about conversations, SMS and use of social media networks for the last six months. The price depends on the mobile operator (up to 1,200 dollars). One can also buy data including the person’s place of residence and vehicle licence plate numbers.
Russian journalists from the Daily Stormer group made several test purchases in the database market. The information about the FSB officers who poisoned Navalny cost them about 12,000 dollars (Расследования — Daily Storm).
Russians owe the emergence of such a convenient information market to MP Irina Yarovaya, who co-authored a package of laws adopted four years ago that, as part of the “fight against terrorism and extremism”, obliged mobile operators and internet providers to collect information about users and keep it for at least three years.
Companies are legally obliged to provide access to this data to the police and security services. This also applies to ticket sales and some stranger things that give an officer the opportunity to access the entire life of a citizen.
Having received all these datasets, Russian officials began to trade them. Thus, a weapon that was supposed to serve Putin and his regime played a low-down trick. But now this dark market is in a state of panic. Intelligence agencies are tracking down traitors who helped expose their colleagues for a song.
Confirmation of the complete failure of Putin’s operation is provided by the law hastily passed by the Russian parliament the day after Navalny published a video about his conversation with the would-be murderer. This law prohibits the publication of information about the property and private life of not only government officials but also officers of the security services. Parliament also passed a law blocking YouTube and Facebook from censoring Russian media. Moscow will maintain a register of platforms and can punish them by blocking, slowing down traffic and imposing administrative fines. These sanctions will only be lifted if the service provider removes restrictions on material from Russian media. The explanatory note to the bill states that censorship of Russian media was allowed, in particular, by Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The companies say that only state-sponsored propaganda media such as Russia Today were censored.
The whole episode is particularly odd in 2020, when the world is trying to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Who would have imagined that such KGB-style activities would be happening again several decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union? Russia is fast moving towards a North Korea-style system with no opposition, no internet and no privacy. In any case, it is ironic that only total corruption is enabling Russian citizens to know the truth.